Choosing a Roof Inspection Firm

Article: No. CRI-KB-2-14.1

 

Summary:  This article will review guidelines for selecting a roof inspection firm for annual Inspections. 

 

By reviewing their business practices the article provides building owners and property managers information for selecting a qualified firm.  Please refer to the building authority directly for confirmation for any compliance requirement required by local building codes. The Author can be reached by e-mail for questions concerning content or the opinions expressed in this article. Please use the Article number for reference.

 

 

Audience:   Building Owners, Property Managers, Facility Managers, V.P. Construction, Director of Building and Grounds, School Boards, Town Managers, Condo Construction Committees.

 

 

If you're a building manager planning annual roof inspections, you may be considering the requirements; the buildings, number of roof sections and inspection scope to use in the contract document. If you have limited roofing experience the process can be foreign when thinking about the qualification process, electronic data and inspection deliverables.   This article is written to help you think about the selection process.  If you plan to take bids or just make calls to local firms you can use this article to help make your final decision.

 

 

One task is aligning the scope of work to select the inspection company.   If you have not read the article Roofing Inspections I suggest reviewing the inspection deliverables that should be considered when specifying the requirements for your planned work.  

 

 

Due to length I will not try to cover all the potential variations of roofing inspection providers.  There are; architects, engineers, roofing consultants and commercial roofing companies.  In Part one, I will review commercial roofing firms and roofing consultants as candidates for roofing assessment services.  I don't discount the value provided by architects and engineering firms, they provide highly skilled services that are beyond the scope of this article.  Finally, my opinions are just to make you think, and prepare for information overload when in discussions with sales representatives.  

 

 

Most buildings managers have roofing service contractors that currently provide some level of roofing service; and repairs. If you have a contractor providing repair services, take the time to evaluate their qualifications for making unbiased annual roof assessments and maintenance plans. Asking a for profit roofing service company to plan capital replacements,maintain as built inspection records should raise a few questions on the potential conflict of interest and insuring that data files and historical records can and will be transfered to the building owner.

 

 

My Point: Roofing service companies are built for delivering roofing services.  Just like a surgeon's medical practice is focused on immediate corrective procedures, don't expect contractors to defer roofing projects.  The opportunity for misleading information is magnified when there is a large profit opportunity.   The building owner interests however, may be best served by extending the useful life of the roof.

 

 

There are very good contractors, there are some very large contractors; the challenge is determining if they will provide the inspection service you request Vs the sales and service program they offer.   They are harder to find, than firms using a two page estimate, or a satellite image with a few photos in a glossy report.  In many cases their deliverable is a sales tool that leads to a biased recommendation. If you need a leak fixed, drain cleaned, some caulking almost any communication format will work.  The information can be short, light, glossy and brief for facility managers willing to proceed with a 100k repair without much documentation detail.      

     

 

More common, is an organization that will challenge every capital spending request and require increasing levels of documentation when the cost and the scope of work increases.  To justify ; a recoating project, a recover or a complete replacement;a narrative of observation facts starting with the as built information should build a case for major work.  Just like your math teacher "show me how you made the calculations"   If you don't receive detailed information;   that allows non roofing managers to make a business decision, look for a second opinion.  

 

 

One of the benefits of Roof Asset Management is planning major projects over several years with progressive observations.  Adding yearly documentation helps prevent impartial influence to replace roofing systems prematurely.   The building manager has time to fund and justify the work.   Consider inspection firms willing to take this approach.  

 

 

Building managers that use a roofing consultant for inspections selected a service provider aligned with inspection services.  Consultants are expected to be more knowledgeable and paid to provide comprehensive roofing observations, recommendations in the owner's best interest and protect them from impartial market forces.

 

 

While their business model is a better fit for roof inspections, consultants have opinions and biases too.  Their experience is often based on one segment of the roofing market.  Commercial roofing technology is complex and not all firms master every roofing system or construction type.  Look at each firm to check if their experience is aligned with your needs.  Look at their current staff since a firms may publish their total history, when the assessment could be completed by a junior staff member with experience in residential, and limited experience in commercial systems.

 

 

Roofing Consultants have also been known to lead owners with lengthy written inspection analysis built around their own system of reporting.  In the current movement for data interoperability, building information modeling (BIM), their practice may be very low tech producing MS word reports.  Roofing inspections as paper report limit data mobility, which for a similar cost could can be delivered in an electronic format.   Even if the inspections meet the building owner immediate requirements, the cost using a paper reports is cost prohibitive.   Q: How many large building owners want or can manage several years of data in three ring binders? Not many.  

 

 

Other consulting firms have adopted technology and use it to brand their services.  Their approach is built around some black box analysis; supported in software they created, closed to industry or peer view.  My guess, if it was revolutionary they would patent it, publish a white paper, or sell it on the open market. Conclusion:  Proprietary software is often a just sales tool for consultants that can transfer a significant cost to the building owner should they ever leave. 

 

 

Since there is a movement for data interoperability,You can find consulting firms that prefer to partner with their clients; that will adopt industry naming formats, offer clients their inspection data, and plan for data portability with building owners. When the building owner has the option to control their inspection information the consultant is providing higher value.

 

 

Data Migration:  A recent contract calling for large number of roofing inspections was publicly bid.  The owner had just received several years of historical data from a firm that closed their business.  The consultant data was in a software format that allowed the transfer without any migration expense. As the contract was awarded a significant credit was offered by the low bidder to transfer hundreds of existing roofing records including any new inspections into their software Vs the specified version.  The owner rejected that offer, however I'm sure many owners would have taken the credit without realizing the proprietary software would prevent moving the data without a costly conversion. 

 

 

If my choice for inspecting 50 buildings was a roofing consultant providing inspections and roof assessments using proprietary data formats, closed software or static reports, I would choose a contractor delivering inspections and RPE. data over that option.

By this point, you can see that to make any comparison between service contractors and consultants is a challenging calculus. To help you visualize the differences, I outlined a sample SWOT chart to help rate and rank what each firm can offer.  The common area is that they have some level of roofing expertise.  

 

 

Commercial Roofing Inspections: Strengths, Weaknesses,

Opportunities, and Threats Analysis

 

 

Strengths

Consultant-1

Consultant-2

Roofing Services-1

Roofing Services-2

What are their business advantages?

Large staff, multiple offices

local- 3 person firm

National Affiliation -30 offices

Local Company- 1 location

What are the core competencies?

Certified  15 RRC, 16 RRO

2 Certified RRO

Separate service dept

Separate crews, EPDM,PVC, TPO, Mod

Service manager schedules mechanics and or crew as needed

Where do they make the most money?

Larger clients and projects that require inspections and construction observation

Local jobs, specifications and work in progress observation

New construction and recover. Coating division, PV division

I -EPDM crew, I hot crew

What do they do well?

Specialized 32 ea professionals in all roofing types

Commercial BUR ,  polyisocyanurate failures, reroofing specifications, failure analysis

large building owners

small complicated projects

Weaknesses

 

 

 

 

What IT areas are they avoiding?

Non-proprietary software for inspections and RAM

Software for Inspection reports. Currently an Excel sheet

No software for Roof Asset Inspections, estimating only.

No Software other than office manager. Service manager for schedules.

Where do they lack resources?

Metro Area- Building Insp.

RRO observers

Asset Management

Asset Management

What are they doing poorly?

Providing electronic data

Providing electronic data

Building systems

Adding new product expertise

Cost of Roof Inspection services?

$ 90.00  hr. +

$ 60.00 hr.  for most inspections

 $ 200.00 per site, with a annual maintenance plan

Free

What needs improvement?

Web access to PDF reports

Upgrade from paper based office and reports

Improve the detail in the roof inspection reports

No asset management service

Opportunities

 

 

 

 

New Trends

Adding new offices

Adding 2 more staff positions. One with RRO certificate

Dedicated Account manager

New PVC Installer cert.

Services that other firms    are missing?

Building Envelope

Certified Observation RRO on staff.

Asset Management

Asset Management

New technologies?

GIS for parking lots

Google Maps

Roofing Service request software

Google map estimates

Other services?

Thermographs

Thermographs

Roof plans in CAD

BUR coatings

Threats

 

 

 

 

Project Obstacles?

Proprietary software for inspections and RAM

Small number staff

Primarily Roofing Services

Primarily a Hot BUR installer

Transparency

Data standards are designed for company

All paper based

Data standards are designed for company.

No data standards

Training levels

Not all staff equally trained in inspections

Only one experienced consultant for Single ply roofing

1 foreman with NRCA inspection course certificate

No NRCA inspection course certificate

Negative reports?

Recent OSHA violation

Expensive using T&M billing

Selling services that are not required

Limited experience with metal and EPDM roofing systems

 

This chart can be edited, rated and ranked using values and weights based on the building owner's requirements.  A comparison chart helps visualize that no two firms in the roofing industry are equally matched with personnel, resources and work experience.  As the author stated in the previous article on roofing inspections; "Building owners need to be better informed, active listeners and ask good questions". 

 

 

To make a good business decision hiring a commercial roofing inspection firm, ask the question "What can this firm provide as a roofing inspection service to lower our annual roofing costs today and in the years ahead?"   If you can prepare the inspection requirements in a way that makes the inspection firm responsible for achieving those goals then the time spent reviewing this area of building management was a good investment.  It is your decision.

 

 

End Part One

 

 

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